Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Have been reading a other people's blogs lately -- for a random sampling, click here -- and realized that I've been writing a lot in my entries. Hmm, maybe I'm making up for lost time, or perhaps I just don't know when to stop. :)

Anyway, I don't know how often I'll be able to post from this point on, as I start my cardiology posting at the National University Hospital tomorrow. Haven't done a medical posting for a year or so -- have been immersed in General Surgery and Orthopaedics, you see -- so ward rounds lasting more than half an hour will be the norm for the next 3 months. Aaargh! But at least I'll get to finally defibrillate a human being. All my previous experience has been on mannequins, which just isn't the same, as you can imagine.

Here's the latest scoop to end off the month of July:

1) Memento : Sat down to watch this last night, and let me tell you, believe all the good things you've heard, 'cos they are true. Based on a short story by Jonathan
Nolan, this film is directed by Christopher Nolan ( not sure exactly how they're related though ), and stars Aussie thespian Guy Pearce as an
insurance agent with "a condition" -- ie. hippocampal injury from a prior head injury sustained in a struggle with the men who raped and murdered his
wife. He proceeds to seek out the killers, but his journey is revealed to us backwards instead.
I'm always intrigued by movies that defy convention -- "The English Patient", which weaved 3 different plots into a seamlessly beautiful love story;
"The Sixth Sense" and "Unbreakable", which made me regain faith in Hollywood again -- and "Memento" certainly takes the cake. Besides being an
ingenious concept, it is impeccably filmed and will keep you riveted even after a tiring day at work. Pearce is absorbing in his role as Lenny, the
hapless and desperate husband to a brutally murdered wife, and is the glue that holds everything together. Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano are
merely supporting actors here, and pretty unremarkable.
What ultimately lifts this film, though, is the screenplay. Try picturing the actual layout of the script, and I guarantee your head will start spinning.
Fantastic! Rent it!!

2) Anyone read the article in the Forum page 2 days ago in The Straits Times? It was written by my classmate in med school, Dr. Ang Seng Bin, where he voices his views
on how doctors see so many patients at polyclinics that they hardly have the time to educate them properly about their own diseases.
I totally agree that doctors have an important role to play in counselling patients so they know how to manage their own illnesses. But the fact that Singaporeans are now
"better educated" and "more well-informed" should relieve the burden on our part, rather than add to it.
I once wrote to The Straits Times -- I've been criticizing them a lot on their website, so don't hope to see anything of mine being printed ever again :) -- saying how frustrated
I get when intelligent patients who are capable of taking care of themselves walk into my clinic and expect me to spend the next 15 minutes explaining the details of their
conditions to them. This includes minor things like ankle sprains, gastroenteritis, or even a small bump on the head.
Some of these "educated" persons are also guilty of being non-compliant with medications or dietary restrictions, telling you they have no time, or that they have to enter-
tain clients and are unable to refrain from drinking, smoking or eating rich foods for fear of losing contracts. Are these the actions of smart people? University degrees don't
guarantee common sense, I gather.
I remember one patient from a previous posting -- an Indian lady in her 30s with idiopathic thrombocytopenia. I met her in the wards when she was admitted for bleeding,
and was impressed with her enthusiasm in participating in the management of her condition. She searched the Internet for information and statistics for each type of treat-
ment, and showed them to the consultant/registrar, asking for their opinions. Best of all, she was very open-minded, and never once argued with the senior doctors. After
some discussion about the pros and cons, she would accede to whatever therapy was deemed best for her. Her main aim, she told me, was to better understand the
disease she had, and know what to expect.
How many Singaporeans can compare to this lady? Very few. Most patients here would rather spend their time enjoying life than sit down for an hour or two reading up and
learning more about something as important as a medical condition they have. They'd much rather haved someone explain everything to them during clinic visits, or in the
wards. After all, they're paying the doctors and nurses to do just that, right?
My friends overseas sometimes can't believe it when I tell them the situation here. In the UK and USA, patients are pro-active. And contrary to what you hear about law-
suits galore, most people are actually very pleasant, and respect their doctors.
Seng Bin, your points are valid. And as you put so correctly, "No matter how well-trained doctors are, they will not be able to have good communication with patients in
the short time available." And since medical manpower shortage will not be solved overnight, the next best thing is for patients to educate themselves.

Monday, July 29, 2002

More DVD reviews:

1) Ordinary Decent Criminal: Much better than "K-Pax" and "The Shipping News". It's certainly interesting to hear Kevin Spacey speaking in an Irish brogue, and even more interesting to see him mooning police officers in one scene ( could be a stunt double though :)). This one has KS playing the leader of a gang of bank robbers in Dublin. Apparently, the film-makers will have you believe that the law enforcement agency there consists of a bunch of morons who can't conduct stakeouts without screwing up, which makes the bad guys look good and hence the "comedic" aspect of the story. There's also a "creepy" factor, in the form of a bizarre relationship between Spacey's character, his wife and his sister-in-law ( watch the show if you want the details ). The "star" factors would, of course, be Spacey himself, plus Linda Fiorentino and a then-unknown Colin Farrell ( in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him role). The plot is unimpressive at best -- this is not a DVD you rent for the sake of the script. But neither is it comparable to any of KS's baseline body of work. Though credit goes to the composer for his thumping soundtrack, this is just another run-of-the-mill film. Strictly for Spacey fans, or those with nothing better to do.

2) Someone Like You: Yet another Hugh Jackman romantic comedy ( sorry, I'm a sucker for anything starring this gorgeous and talented Australian ). I feel that this one's a lot more enjoyable than "Kate & Leopold", primarily because Meg Ryan isn't in it. But then, there's also a perkier script, with lovely direction from an equally cute guy ( ie. Tony Goldwyn, aka the villanous friend of Patrick Swayze in "Ghost"). Ashley Judd, another looker, is endearing as a lovelorn copywriter with a closet obsession with animal mating rituals ( especially of the bovine variety ). Her take on why men sow wild oats, superimposed on images of labcoat-wearing scientists leading bulls around, is surreal and hilarious. What I love most, however, is the sizzling chemistry between Judd and Jackman. Putting good-looking leads together doesn't guarantee steam -- look at Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt in "The Mexican", Johnny Depp and Heather Graham in "From Hell" -- but these two play off each other really well, and Jackman excels at making women squirm whenever he directs an intense gaze upon them. Be still my beating heart. :) And for those who just want a good movie, well, this one tells it like it is, giving lessons on why a man doesn't call, and what you should do if the guy leaves you and tries to crawl back into your arms.

3) crazy/beautiful: Garnered a string of good reviews for both young stars, but not for the faint-hearted, or anyone with a short attention span. Kirsten Dunst ( last seen in "Spiderman" ) is a drugged out, sexually promiscuous daughter of a congressman, who falls for A-student and scholarship recipient Jay Hernandez.
Predictably, they embark on a self-destructive relationship which threatens his aspirations of achieving his goals and questions her sanity. Dunst is a great actress considering her age, but I still think her performance in "Spiderman" is her best so far -- the second being her turn as a scheming bloodsucker in "Interview With The Vampire" .

4) The Exorcist: I saw this many years ago, but was probably too young to remember any of it ( plus the likelihood that I covered my eyes the whole time :)). This classic needs no introduction, and let me assure you that it's perfect for getting up close and personal with your date! ( In case you're wondering, I saw this at home with my parents, so there. :)) I'm a fan of horror movies, and my list of the scariest is "The Turn Of The Screw", "The Others" and "What Lies Beneath". "The Exorcist" ranks as #1, and if you think you need state-of-the-art visual effects in order to get people screaming, you're very wrong. This film is disturbing because it capitalizes on your worst fears. A sweet angelic child ( Linda Blair, now hostess of "Scariest Places on Earth" on cable ) is inexplicably possessed by a demon and tormented beyond imagination -- aside from the famous head-twisting scene, she's flung around, levitated and mutilated ( this part is censored in the Singapore version ). Slow at times, it is punctuated by images of profound terror, and the climactic finale is both horrific and heart-breaking. The remastered VCD ( the store didn't have the DVD ) has a 20-minute interview with the cast and crew at the end, so don't stop the disc after the credits start rolling. This segment is enlightening because it details how the special effects were constructed, as well as what the actors had to endure during the shooting. Ellen Burstyn shows her annoyance during her account of how director William Friedkin let the stuntman thrash her around despite her specifically telling him not to. Friedkin is revealed to be quite an ass -- perhaps the reason behind why his fame ended with "The Exorcist"? Rent this sometime, turn down the lights, and get ready to be chilled to the bone.

If you're wondering where I rent my VCDs/DVDs from, it's an outlet called Video Ezy, which just opened at Hougang Street 21. It has many other branches, and is affiliated to its Australian counterparts. They offer great packages for movie buffs who rent a lot. I took up its $100 package -- you pay up front, get 20 rentals at $5 each, but also get 12 free rentals as well. This adds up to 32 rentals for $100, and about $3 per disc, a real bargain. The outlet I go to also has other offers -- being newly opened and all. For example, I can get 4 DVDs for $10 and keep them for a week. They have a system that's too complicated to get into, so drop by your neighbourhood branch sometime and take a look. They get the latest releases as soon as a week after they stop running in cinemas.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

The countdown continues -- tomorrow's my official last day with orthopaedics, and today's my last night call. Am expecting anything from restful to hellish, and based on experiences in other rotations, my last call at any department always ends up as the worst. Wish me luck! :)

Anyway, this blog entry shall be kept light-hearted. Watched a whole lot of movies recently, so here's an update.

1) Men In Black II : My God, this one really sucked. Despite being an admirer of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, despite rehashing an already popular storyline, despite spending US$140 million on it... the list goes on. I blame it on the scriptwriters -- who churned out garbage, the director -- who didn't direct at all, in my opinion, and the crazy makeup artist who did Lara Flynn Boyle's alien geisha face. I started fidgeting in my seat about halfway through the show, and by the last half hour or so, I was thinking of what to eat for dinner. Small wonder that it hasn't done well at the box office. If the producers are thinking about making MIB III, I suggest they get a new director and screenwriter(s).

2) A Walk To Remember : Borrowed this DVD immediately after watching MIB II, in an attempt to flush the latter out of my shocked system, I guess. :) Anyhow, AWTR is a terrific movie, thanks to its appealing young leads -- Mandy Moore and Shane West. This is an unapologetic weepie which steals from the Love Story premise, but done in a very understated manner. Moore shows promise in the acting department, but West exudes movie-star charm in ample amounts. Would love to see them in more interesting roles in the future. Definitely worth the time and money.

3) K-Pax: I rented a total of 3 Kevin Spacey DVDs ( he's been very busy lately! ), and this was the first one I saw. Now I am very very biased, 'cos I adore KS, and in my mind, there is no bad KS movie. :) However, I have to say that K-Pax was one of his least satisfying films. I don't know if it's the director's fault, or whether Spacey just decided to play his character this way, but having to sit for 2 hours and watch someone as dynamic as KS sleepwalk through his role is excruciating. Where's the fire? Heck, where's the bloody spark?! Jeff Bridges, another fun actor to watch, doesn't fare any better either. I can't imagine how this movie ever got made -- anyone read the novel? Is it one of those "Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil" debacles? Clint Eastwood really massacred that one.
Anyway, you'll be better off renting "Awakenings" instead of this clunker.

4) The Shipping News : This one is more interesting than K-Pax, but also falls short of expectations. Based on yet another novel -- some Pulitzer Prize-winning story, it says on the cover -- it traces the life of a loser called Quoyle, who lives in a drab little coastal town and leads a very very boring life. Spacey again looks like he's on another planet, but fares better here in scenes where his character slowly awakens and begins to gain strength. Watch the part where he finally makes a stand on something he wrote and gets the editor to take his side. Those 30 seconds where he goes from outright shock to realization and finally silent gloating and satisfaction is vintage Spacey. The rest of the movie isn't remarkable at all, but having the likes of Julianne Moore, Judi Dench, Scott Glenn, Cate Blanchett and Rhys Ifans ( Hugh Grant's quirky house-mate in "Notting Hill" ) in the same film is so rare, you really shouldn't miss this one.

I still have one more KS show to go -- "Ordinary Decent Criminal", a bank robbery ensemble piece set in Ireland. And since I'm on the subject, let me list my favourite KS films, in order of preference:

1) The Buddy Factor, aka Swimming With Sharks -- probably known only to ardent KS fans, but his finest role yet ( in my opinion, that is ). He plays a sadistic egomaniac Hollywood producer who tortures his new assistant to the breaking point. The dialogue sparkles, performances are fantastic all round ( Benicio Tel Toro makes a brief appearance as the outgoing assistant ), and Spacey is practically scorching in every scene. I rented the video from this place called Vision Ailanthus, along Hougang Street 21. I have no idea if this is the only place in Singapore that has this movie, but I highly recommend it.

2) American Beauty -- Spacey's most famous work, no doubt, and for which he finally won his Oscar. This one resembles The Shipping News in terms of plot, but is far superior for its sardonic humour, irony and excellent direction. This film exposes the dysfunction of outwardly perfect suburban life, and warrants repeat viewings.

3) The Usual Suspects -- Also known as "that other movie that Spacey won an Oscar for". Yes, he garnered his first statuette for Best Supporting Actor here, and what a role it is. Reminiscent of Edward Norton's turn in "Primal Fear", KS plays a character who is the complete opposite of his true self. Of course, credit also goes to the entire production crew and amazing cast. For better appreciation of this complex masterpiece, make sure you're fully alert and not preoccupied with anything else.

4) The Negotiator -- I meant to keep the list short, but couldn't leave this one out, since it's THE movie that made me a KS convert. :) When I first saw this, I knew KS only as the killer in "Se7en". "The Negotiator" is probably Spacey's first foray into mainstream action flicks, and a good job he does too. Samuel L. Jackson's theatrics look ridiculous when compared to the former's calm and collected, yet intense, performance. The only instance where KS loses it a little is during an impassioned speech in which he beseeches the FBI to spare Jackson's life. In fact, if it weren't for Spacey's presence in this movie, it would've sunk into melodrama and mediocrity.

More will follow next week, as I review the last of the KS DVDs I rented. Stay tuned. :)

By the way, if you'd like to check out the Kevin Spacey website, just click here.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Well, it's gonna be my last week in orthopaedics soon, before I rotate to cardiology next month. The experience has been enriching -- yes, this coming from an emergency medicine trainee with no interest in anything surgical, mind you! :) It really depends on the department you're posted to, and the orthopods at the Singapore General Hospital are the best in the country -- in terms of skills, dedication and teaching. Dare I say it? I will miss them when I leave. :D

The June issue for the SMA News is out on the Web. My involvement this month is just 2 lines under the editorial board feature. Hmm, wonder why my intro is the shortest :) An article or two I've penned will probably be printed next month.

On a lighter note, I had a most interesting breakfast with my registrar this morning after ward rounds. He's from Seychelles, but attended medical school in Zimbabwe, and is now in Singapore for 4 years doing a post-graduate programme in orthopaedics. Very nice guy, and we all have a lot of fun listening to his stories. Today's, however, topped them all. He told us about his experiences doing OBGYN ( yes, in Zimbabwe ) during his first year residency. He related how one night, this young female patient was in labour, and the other resident was evaluating her regularly for cervical dilatation. Apparently, the doctor reported feeling a strange pointed object every time she examined the lady, but thought little of it. Eventually, the patient "gave birth" -- to a dead bird about the size of a duck! It was plucked as well, and quite fresh! All of us choked on our food and drink upon hearing this, of course, but our reg wasn't joking. It seems a witch doctor performed some ritual on the patient, hence the insertion of the bird. Okay, this tale has officially become the most incredible one I've ever heard in my entire life. The former winner was a story that Nicole Kidman is actually a man, as told to me by a fellow resident a couple of years ago -- she heard this from an OBGYN in Australia, who swears it's true ( Nicole allegedly has XY chromosomes, but has a hormonal dysfunction which results in ambiguous external genitalia. I have no idea if any of this is accurate, but just goes to show the sort of rumours that float around the medical community! :))

The rest of the conversation revolved around our registrar's accounts of his travels around Africa -- how he drove through some of the most beautiful countrysides he's ever seen, how gorgeous Victoria Falls is, and how much he loves The Reunion Islands. Hearing his accounts made us feel so deprived. Singapore is just acres upon acres of concrete, people and traffic. Everything's crammed together, traffic is hell, and there's no scenery to speak of. Not to mention the humid weather, increasingly cranky citizens and ridiculously high cost of living. I need a holiday!

I may get my wish this December. Planning a 2-week trip to New Zealand, through the North and South Islands. Have been surfing the Web for various tours and checking out the attractions. All I can say is, WOW. :) I also have a penpal living in Auckland, so we'll have a chance to meet up and have a good chat. I have my eye on The Best of New Zealand Tour package at this website. Check it out if you're interested.

Update on Josh Groban. He's due to appear on Larry King Live next week, but I'd also like to say his website is one of the most interesting ones I've ever visited. This I attribute solely to the fans who post there religiously, and include great photos of themselves and Josh. The best part is, Josh is probably one of the friendliest celebrities around -- and not just for publicity's sake ( e.g. Britney or Christina on MTV ). He takes the time to stay back after his performances and meet his fans for photo sessions or autograph signings. And he posts messages on the bboard at his website on and off as well! I recommend you pay his site a visit and discover for yourself the very talented Mr. Groban, and the wonderful world of Grobania. :)

My patients beckon, so will write another time. Catching Men In Black this Sunday, so more on that later.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Caught Minority Report on Sunday. Let me tell you -- if there's one movie you see this whole year, make it this one.
I've never been a big Tom Cruise fan, but I'm a long-time admirer of Steven Spielberg, so that was my main motivation for going to see this film. It's been getting rave reviews here in Singapore, so I was prepared to be disappointed ( reviewers sometimes exaggerate! ). Since the whole world already knows the premise of the movie, I'll just skip ahead and talk about why I enjoyed it:
1) The excellent script -- taut and full of surprises, yet never bordering on the ridiculous.
2) The visuals -- original and just plain amazing. Check out the much talked about vertical highways and various chase sequences.
3) Tom Cruise -- face it, Spielberg made the right choice when he cast him in the role of John Anderton. Cruise turns in a nicely understated yet poignant performance.
Tortured but not melodramatic, and yes, he reigns among the top 5 action actors in Hollywood.
4) Colin Farrell -- a brunette Brad Pitt lookalike, I swear. Plays a pivotal role with skill and relish, but displays the much sought after "X factor" as well. Watch his star rise.
5) Spielberg -- the maestro extraordinnaire has truly mastered his craft. After the dark and melancholy A.I., he adds his familiar touch of slam-bang action to Minority
Report, resulting in a hard-hitting thriller that will be tough to match, much less top, in many years to come. I'm betting he'll get a fistful of nominations come Oscar time.
Money worth spending. Go see it!

Thursday, July 04, 2002

Major guilt trip going on. :) It's been, let's see, 19 days since my last post! Aaargh! Such is the state of my life, so here's a quick update.

1) World Cup results: Brazil won! But I was actually supporting Germany -- much to the chagrin of many of my colleagues. :) But hey, the Brazilians played well, and what Ronaldo lacks in looks and intelligence, he makes up for in footballing prowess. However, someone should tell him once and for all that his hairstyle is ridiculous, blech!

2) Here's my chance to add another link. I'm a big fan of Josh Groban, a brilliant young American singer with a voice that rivals that of Russell Watson's despite his young age ( 20 or 21, I believe ). Josh began his career after being spotted by David Foster, who managed to get him a gig filling in for Andrea Bocelli during a rehearsal for the Grammies in 1999. He ended up singing with Celine Dion on "The Prayer", and the rest is history. He later cut a record deal with David Foster as his producer, no less, and has been slowly making a name for himself through various talk shows and 2 TV appearances on "Ally McBeal". His legions of fans have grown progressively larger, and seem like a very sweet bunch, at least from what I can gather from their many postings on the board on Josh's website. :) Recently, he sang with The Boston Pops under the direction of the great John Williams, and just last week, appeared on the talk show of all talk shows -- Oprah Winfrey's. Get ready, world, that'll really propel him to full-fledged stardom! If you're wondering what the heck I'm rambling about, visit his website, where you can listen to his entire debut CD for free. But let me tell you, hearing it on the computer doesn't do his singing justice. My personal favourites are "To Where You Are", "Alejate" and his cover of "Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) -- the last a very poignantly beautiful rendition that puts the original to shame. :) Hope you'll drop by Singapore sometime in the future, Josh!

3) Read in the papers a week ago that the U.S. has implemented new guidelines for its doctors, restricting work-shifts to 24 hours max, and no more than 80 work-hours a week. I think it's a splendid idea, and have already submitted a piece supporting it, which will be published in the SMA News later this month, so take a look if you're interested.

4) If you're in the mood for something light that doesn't require much concentration, try renting Mad About Mambo. It stars Kerri Russell -- the lady with the long curly locks from the now-defunct "Felicity", and a comely young Irish lad named William Ash. The plot is paper-thin -- amateur football enthusiast tries to improve his game by learning how to samba, and ends up falling for his partner. What saves this otherwise unremarkable film is Ash, whose puppy-eyed sincerity and good comic timing provide lots of laughs. Credit goes to Russell as well for her convincing Irish twang, not to mention her excellent dancing skills. The big bonus, though, is the amazing soundtrack, featuring songs from George Michael, The Corrs, and other luminaries. I've hunted high and low for the CD, and am in the process of tearing my hair out. :)

More on another day then. Will be catching Minority Report in the theatre this Sunday. Looking forward to it!